Hornaday’s article is titled “Washington-set films may fudge facts, but good ones speak to larger truths.” Note that it appears in the paper which served as the JournoList HQ for all sorts of writers who believed that truth was fungible. (See also, tweet at top of the first page of this post.) But her idea of a “usable past” actually pre-dates Orwell’s 1984 by several decades. It’s not Orwellian so much as it’s Sorelian — Georges Sorel, the French socialist theorist from the first half of the twentieth century. As Lee Harris noted a few years ago at Tech Central Station:
Sorel, for whom religion was important, drew a comparison between the Christian and the socialist revolutionary. The Christian’s life is transformed because he accepts the myth that Christ will one day return and usher in the end of time; the revolutionary socialist’s life is transformed because he accepts the myth that one day socialism will triumph, and justice for all will prevail. What mattered for Sorel, in both cases, is not the scientific truth or falsity of the myth believed in, but what believing in the myth does to the lives of those who have accepted it, and who refuse to be daunted by the repeated failure of their apocalyptic expectations. How many times have Christians in the last two thousand years been convinced that the Second Coming was at hand, only to be bitterly disappointed — yet none of these disappointments was ever enough to keep them from holding on to their great myth. So, too, Sorel argued, the myth of socialism will continue to have power, despite the various failures of socialist experiments, so long as there are revolutionaries who are unwilling to relinquish their great myth. That is why he rejected scientific socialism — if it was merely science, it lacked the power of a religion to change individual’s lives. Thus for Sorel there was “an…analogy between religion and the revolutionary Socialism which aims at the apprenticeship, preparation, and even the reconstruction of the individual — a gigantic task.”
In an earlier essay on Sorel, Harris noted:
It should come as no surprise, then, that Lenin was one of Sorel’s heroes. Here was a man that could never have come even close to a position of power except during a period in which all legitimate authority had collapsed, and power was lying in the streets. Napoleon, too, was another Sorelian hero, and for exactly the same reason: when the existing government of France had been battered back and forth by the street mobs, it was Napoleon who finally decided to end the French Revolution by doing the only thing that could bring an end to mob rule — he opened fire on the mob and shot many of them dead: a feat that the timorous Louis the Sixteenth simply could not bring himself to do.
Sorel dreamt of returning to a new heroic age, in which great men would govern nations, and not mere politicians. Little wonder that Mussolini, who certainly thought of himself as such a great man, once said: “I owe most to Georges Sorel.” It was Sorel who had taught Mussolini that those who were ruthless enough to dominate the streets would be able to force the government to do their bidding, just as Mussolini’s Fascists were able to impose themselves upon the impotent and bankrupt Italian parliamentary system. Sorel liked to see men in power who were exciting and fanatical — and he got his wish. With the collapse of normal boring politics, one European society after another selected men as their leaders who were Sorelian heroes: Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, men intensely motivated by their Nietzschean will to power and who knew how power really worked because they had worked it for themselves.
And to tie this movie-related post in with our look at Roger Ebert earlier today, note that Ebert decries Sarah Palin’s defense of Dr. Laura as another Socialist example of the Big Lie:
By implying Dr. Laura was silenced by “Constitutional obstructionists,” she employs the methodology of the Big Lie, defined in Mein Kampf as an untruth so colossal that “no one would believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”
So why does Ebert decry one form of the Big Lie, and yet cheerfully applaud it whenever it’s employed in the cinema?
Related: “The Sanctification of Awful Men.”